Letter from the CEO — Some Context Regarding Kovan

With the recent announcement of the Kovan testnet, there’s been some backlash about why and how it was launched, and we wanted to add our perspective to hopefully provide some context to the discussion.

From what we’ve read, there seems to be some accusations about the intent and organisation of the Kovan testnet. There also appears to be a misconception that Gavin Wood (from Parity Technologies, formerly known as Ethcore) has spearheaded and developed the technology specifically for the launch of Kovan (dubiously dubbed “Ethcore’s testnet”). This isn’t accurate. Kovan is a grassroots initiative that in reality had initially little to do with the Parity team.

We wanted to set the record straight by explaining a little bit more about the genesis of Kovan, in an attempt to defuse some of the bitterness that it’s release has caused. We think that context really matters here, as does the intent behind Kovan.

Here’s the TL;DR:

  • Parity’s Proof of Authority engine wasn’t created for Kovan; it was a publicly available option (https://gitter.im/ethcore/parity-poa) since the 1.5 release of Parity, well before the Ropsten attacks began
  • After the Ropsten attacks, a group of Ethereum developers in Singapore came together to try and come to a solution
  • With knowledge of the PoA option, we decided to form a quick group with some other trusted parties we knew personally
  • Kovan wasn’t Gav’s idea. He agreed to be a validator at our request. It was a proposal Digix, Attores and TenX originally drafted at SGInnovate as we needed a quick solution to a working testnet as stated in the news release
  • Kovan is and will continue to be a grassroots effort by a diverse group of private, independent Ethereum development teams as stated in the news release.
  • Kovan doesn’t need to replace Ropsten; it’s an optional alternative — a free public service for the Ethereum community that’s open to everyone, intended for user acceptance testing and integration with our partners
  • Kovan was launched with the best of intentions in the interests of the Ethereum community

We at Digix recently announced that we’d be launching our contracts on the Ropsten testnet, which we did, but continued deployment was quickly interrupted by the recent “spam attacks” that began around Feb 24th.

Chris from Digix got talking with Gaurang from Attores, and they came to the conclusion that PoW was basically unviable for testnets; if malicious actors can get their hands on “monopoly money” testnet ETH by mining, then spam attacks will be a persistent concern for any PoW testnet.

We had made commitment to our clients to deliver on the testnet within weeks. As no other announcements had been made from other organisations about a solution, we figured we were on to something, and it would be awesome to provide a service to the community by setting up a public testnet running PoA — a technology we had recently learned about from the Parity 1.5 release in January. We just needed a small network of organizations to launch a test net asap, make the network publicly accessible, and have some secure faucets in place to prevent malicious actors from getting testnet Ether. The idea of Kovan was born.

Within 24 hours we had organised a collaboration between various parties, got in touch with our friends at Etherscan (who kindly agreed to be on board; you need a quality blockchain explorer if you’re creating a public testnet), wrote up a proposal, and reached out to Gav about helping us create a config file for parity.

Note that even if Gav wasn’t on board, we still would have launched Kovan. Infura actually did the same. The ability to use Parity’s PoA (https://gitter.im/ethcore/parity-poa) wasn’t a secret, and anyone could have done what we did with or without Gavin’s help.

Within a week, we coordinated the relevant discussion channels, refined the proposal, produced a user guide, and got everyone on the same page with all the Authorities running validator nodes (at their own expense). Even the block explorer was set up and was good to go. Kovan was ready to launch within a week of it being first conceptualised, and we had press release ready with our PR channels ready to push out for the Monday news cycle.

So that’s the context — a group of private organizations, with a proposal first written up out of the SGInnovate offices, coming together to solve a problem that was blocking our progress. There was no intention to hurt anyone’s feelings which technology was used — it’s just that at the time Parity was ready to go as the only real option to launch a PoA public testnet as soon as we can.

Thankfully, the launch of Kovan has also spurred on the publication of similar initiatives from the Ethereum Foundation to create a standardised PoA-based testnet, and we’re glad that the launching Kovan has helped push things forward.

We hope this recent drama doesn’t get in the way of progress — we won’t be commenting further on it. At the end of the day, we just wanted to get back to building dapps, and with Kovan, now we can.

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